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Wanting What You've Got

Ways to help your kids cultivate an "attitude of gratitude"

As I picked up my nine-year-old son, Hewson, from his friend Beau's house the other day, I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable. I didn't have to wait long.

"Mom, Beau has a PlayStation. It's so cool. Can I get one?" Hewson asked as we backed out of Beau's driveway. I knew before I'd even dropped him off this morning that I'd hear those words. Sure enough, for the next week, if I heard "PlayStation" once, I heard it two dozen times: "It's not fair, Mom! Beau has a PlayStation. Why can't I get one?"

Yes, I knew Beau has a PlayStation. Cole has a horse. Austin has a pool. Casey has a four-wheeler. And Hunter has every toy known to man. It didn't matter how many times I told Hewson God wants us to be content with what he's given us. All my son seemed to see were the things he didn't have—especially during the holidays.

As Christians, we're called to "be content with what [we] have" (Hebrews 13:5) and to "be on [our] guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). Certainly that includes a PlayStation, a pool, or a horse.

But don't I have my list of things I wish I had, too? For example, my friend Karen has a husband who grocery shops and cooks. I'd love that! My friend Jane has in-laws who'll baby-sit at the drop of a hat. Wouldn't that come in handy? And my friend Anne has a maid, for Pete's sake!

My 14-year-old daughter, Haley, isn't much better. She's quick to remind me her friend Nicole's mom drops her off at the movies instead of chaperoning as I do. Ashley's mom doesn't make her take boring piano lessons. Katie's had pierced ears since she was three. Clearly when it comes to discontent, the apple doesn't fall far from our family tree.

"The message from the world is 'the more you have (influence, affluence, comforts), the happier you'll be,'" explains Dr. Chuck Borsellino, author of How to Raise Totally Awesome Kids (Multnomah) and cohost of the television program At Home with Chuck and Jenny. "The problem with this 'more, more, more' mentality is that more is never enough. God's Word instructs us not to 'conform any longer to the pattern of this world' (Romans 12:2). As Christians, we're to live with one foot in this covetous world but to know God has a better way."

Here are five ways to help you raise a content child in a discontented world.

1. Model gratitude.First Thessalonians 5:18 is a great place to start. In it the apostle Paul reminds us to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

But this kind of gratitude doesn't happen naturally. According to Caryl Krueger, author of 15 books, including The Parenting Encyclopedia (Belleridge Press), gratitude "must be nurtured. If your child hears you complain about your job or gripe about the car you drive, you actually may be teaching him to be discontent. But if he hears you say, 'I'm grateful I have a job' or, 'I'm grateful we have this house,' you're modeling gratitude. Hopefully one day your child will begin to think, I'm grateful I have a bike, even if it's old. I'm grateful I can read when many people can't."

Jane LeCompte, a mother of three, says, "We live in an affluent community so it's easy to get caught up in everyone else's elaborate vacations and beautiful homes. I make a point of daily listing five blessings that money can't buy, such as my infant son's sweet laugh, my teenage daughter's desire to hang out with me, or my husband's offer to clean the kitchen when I don't ask him to."

Why not try this exercise with your kids? The next time you're sitting around the dinner table, invite each family member to list three things for which he's grateful. When your hearts are full of gratitude, there's little room for discontentment to creep in.

2. Put others first. "Discontentment comes when a child thinks he's the center of the universe, that his needs come first," explains Krueger, who suggests challenging your child to perform random acts of kindness to get her focus onto others.

Perhaps your child can start by taking the trash cans up from the curb for an elderly neighbor or donating some of her allowance to a charity. Or volunteer as a family at your local food bank or homeless shelter. Chances are, your kids have no idea there are people in your community who do without basic necessities like food and shelter.

Wendy and Nelson Corchado were involved with relocating orphaned Sudanese children who took refuge in their area. "Our seven- and nine-year-olds helped us collect supplies and set up the boys' apartment," explains Wendy. "I've seen such a maturity and compassion develop in our children because of the time we spend volunteering together. Recently my daughter asked, 'Mom, why is half the world starving and the other half fat?'"

With our kids, we've found a great opportunity not only to meet the needs of others but to fill an empty spot in our lives as well. Every Thursday our church cooks and delivers lunches to elderly shut-ins. We don't have grandparents or older aunts and uncles in our family, so our children are growing up without the benefit of this entire generation. The food we bring is secondary to the time we spend feeding the soul of a lonely senior—and the wisdom my kids glean from the time we spend visiting. It's a win/win situation.

3. Teach the joy of anticipation. When I was a girl, my family traveled down South every summer to visit our cousins.My sister and I could hardly wait, and for days would play "vacation," imagining all the fun we were going to have. Looking back, I realize the actual trip paled by comparison to the fun we had anticipating it.

How often do your kids have the chance to anticipate something, to imagine how much they'll enjoy it? What do we take away from them by giving them everything they want the minute they want it?

The next time your child asks for something, help him plan how he's going to acquire it. If he wants a new bike, for example, challenge him to raise half the money himself.

We're trying this strategy with Hewson now. We've laid out the deal: You save half; Dad and I will match it. Every time he goes to Beau's, he's reminded of what he "can't live without." But as Hewson saves, he's discovering the fun of saving. Lately he spends more time counting his savings and reporting how much he's accumulated, and less time singing the praises of a PlayStation. We're curious to see what happens when he reaches his goal.

4. Loosen those apron strings. Preteens and teens are often feel discontent when other kids get to do things they're not allowed to. One way to battle this type of discontentment is to be clear about family boundaries. Author Caryl Krueger recommends saying things such as, "No, you may not get your ears pierced this year, but you may when you're 13." Or instead of saying "no" outright to dating, tell your daughter, "You'll be allowed to go on a car date when you're 16. Until then I'll drive you, or you can hang out here at home."

If your child wants to do something that's clearly against family rules, let him know it won't ever be allowed, period. If it'll be allowed when he's older, let him know when, then stick to your guns. A child who knows his boundaries is a happier, more secure and contented child.

Just the other day we discovered how true this is with our 12-year-old, Molly. Our school holds junior-high dances for kids starting in 4th grade, which my husband, David, and I consider too young. One boy in Molly's class asked her to the dance, and she asked us if she could go. David and I explained that in our family we don't date until well into high school. Much to our surprise, Molly reacted with relief! Turns out she didn't want to go, but wasn't sure how to say "no." I assured her she was welcome to blame her dad and me anytime she feels peer pressure calling and is searching for a way out.

5. Expect temptation. Last year alone, $469 billion was spent on advertising designed to make us feel discontent with what we have so we'll buy whatever's being sold. And the advertising industry goes into hyper-drive during the Christmas gift-giving season!

That's why Karen Dockrey, author of 30 books on parenting, including Reaching Your Kids (Broadman & Holman), implores parents to expect temptation and then get creative about redirecting it.

For example, Dockrey recommends that the next time your child asks for something he just can't live without, try a response such as this: "Yes, that bike helmet looks fun. What do you like about it? What would you do if you had it? I wonder if you can draw me a picture of it. Then we can hang your drawing up in your room." As you gush over your son's artistic ability, he receives what he was looking for in the first place—attention and fun with the people he loves most.

So Hewson still doesn't have a PlayStation. Haley's still enduring piano lessons, and I'm still scrubbing my own commodes. But we're focusing on the abundant blessings God's poured out on us, including a new baby brother. Maybe by the time he's old enough to know better, I'll have this whole contentment gig down and can pass it along to him.

Mimi Greenwood Knight, a freelance writer and artist-in-residence, lives with her family in Louisiana.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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